Golden Fleece Redux

Posted by Laura Otten, Ph.D., Director on August 29th, 2008 in Articles, Thoughts & Commentary

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 Golden Fleece


In the mid-1970s, Senator William Proxmire, a Democrat from Wisconsin, created the Golden Fleece Award.  He would give this award to the organization which he felt did the best job of wasting government money studying and explaining the obvious. Among the winners were the U.S. Army for its 1981 study on how to buy Worcester sauce, the Justice Department for conducting a study on why prisoners wanted to get out of jail, and the Federal Aviation Administration for studying the physical measurements of 432 airline stewardesses, paying special attention to the ‘length of the buttocks.”

When Proxmire left office, so did the award.  But I understand that Taxpayers for Common Sense has resurrected it.   My use of the Golden Fleece Award, which most frequently occurs in my internal dialogues, is not , however, limited to those who spend government money on proving the obvious, but anyone who wastes money and  time to prove the obvious.


And so I give this award to the Center on Philanthropy for its latest research that shows that nonprofits are “somewhat” less optimistic about the present and future climate for fundraising.  Duh!  According to the Center on Philanthropy, their Philanthropic Giving Index is down!  Surprise?  What gave it away?  The tanking economy?  The repeated references in every form of media imaginable to people taking staycations because they couldn’t afford a vacation?  The collapsing of the American auto industry? The mortgage crisis? The rise in inflation and the increase in unemployment? 


But here is the surprise:  according to its research, 83% of fundraisers today are saying the economy is having an adverse effect on their fundraising success, compared to only 48% who said that six months ago.  Now, here is the story.  What were the other 35% of those fundraisers thinking? What indicators were they following, what news were they reading/watching, what were they thinking?  And, most importantly, what messages weren’t they delivering to their more than likely already complacent board?


And what, pray tell, are the steps and measures that organizations are taking now for the next time—and there will be a next time, as there always is where fundraising is concerned—the Center for Philanthropy affirms the obvious and tells us that the world of fundraising is pretty bleak?



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